WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - The Justice Department has appointed Robert Mueller, the former FBI director, to serve as a special counsel to oversee its investigation into Russian meddling in the election, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced on Wednesday (May 17).
The appointment of Mueller dramatically raises the stakes for President Donald Trump in the multiple investigations into his campaign's ties to the Russians. It follows a swiftly moving series of developments that have roiled Washington, including Trump's abrupt dismissal of the FBI director, James Comey, and the disclosure that the president urged Comey to drop the bureau's investigation into his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
"I determined that it is in the public interest for me to exercise my authorities and appoint a special counsel to assume responsibility for this matter," Rosenstein said in a statement. "My decision is not a finding that crimes have been committed or that any prosecution is warranted. I have made no such determination."
While a special counsel would remain ultimately answerable to Rosenstein - and by extension, the president - he would have greater autonomy to run an investigation than a US attorney would.
Mueller will be able to choose to what extent to consult with or inform the Justice Department about his investigation as it goes forward.
Mueller is viewed by members of both parties as one of the most credible law enforcement officials in the country. He served both Democratic and Republican presidents, from 2001 to 2013, and was asked by President Barack Obama to stay on beyond the normal 10-year term until Comey was appointed.
Inside the FBI, he is known for his gruff, exacting management style - and for saving the institution. After the Sept 11 terrorist attacks, there were calls to break up the FBI and create a separate domestic intelligence agency.
Mueller, who came to the agency just one week before the attacks, beat back those efforts and is credited with building the modern FBI. He led the investigations into al-Qaeda while simultaneously transforming the agency into a key part of the national security infrastructure.
In his capacity as special counsel, Mueller will be able to request additional resources for the investigation. Those requests will be reviewed by Lee Lofthus, assistant attorney general for administration.
Mueller is expected to announce his resignation from the law firm WilmerHale.